John Macken ’62, a physicist and entrepreneur who holds U.S. patents for 36 scientific inventions, has been “semi-retired” since 2001. But this latest phase of a highly productive life scarcely consists of resting on his laurels. “I’m working on a very big physics project,” said Macken, whose forthcoming book, The Universe is Only Spacetime, argues that everything in the universe is created from a single building block. “I’m not playing golf every day.”
As a shy physics major at SMC, Macken took up the “bitter medicine” of debate to gain verbal confidence, an asset that helped land him a job in the brand-new laser lab at Rockwell International in the early 1960s. He went on to launch two tech companies of his own—Optical Engineering, which manufactured scientific instruments that Macken invented, and Lasercraft, Inc., which made laser-engraved decorations based on processes he developed.
“I loved being a physicist and inventing things,” said Macken, “but as president of a company of 200 people, 90 percent of my time” revolved around employee management. “That was my day job,” he said. “Then I would come home, play with my kids, and work nights coming up with inventions.”
Macken’s best-known products include a powerful carbon dioxide laser commonly used in laser surgery and an optical design for remote sheet-metal welding used in automobile manufacturing.
Named Alumnus of the Year in 2000, Macken serves on SMC’s Board of Trustees and sponsors the debate team, which is named in his honor. But these days, his scientific passions definitely come first. “My most recent technical paper is going to knock the socks off everybody,” he said.